How the French regional elections reshuffle the deck ahead of the presidential campaign

by Nicolas Ponchut

 

Regional elections took place in France on June 20th and 27th. The results were eagerly awaited as they mark the last elections to take place before the presidential one scheduled for late April 2022

 

No major changes in regional leadership while presidential majority is weakened 

With a low level of uncertainty following the first round on June 20th, each outgoing majority was reelected in each metropolitan region. North and southeast regions stay under the leadership of the conservative party and its allies, while central and southwest ones remain under the socialist party. Corsica stays under its own regionalist party leadership. Regarding overseas regions, La Réunion and French Guyana switch from centre-right to socialist while Guadeloupe and Martinique stay under the previous leadership.

The abstention rate is often higher for these elections than for national ones, but this was the highest abstention rate under the fifth republic (1958), reaching almost 70%. It reopened several debates regarding democratic legitimacy. Every political side agrees this is a growing issue that is more and more worthy of attention to avoid further escalation leading to increased political polarization and social instability. The main decision agreed upon to try to alleviate this issue seems to rebuild confidence between citizens and politicians, through communication efforts as well as local initiatives.

The results also show that regional topics seem to be decorrelated from the national ones since the two favourite candidates' parties for the presidential elections (Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National) did not win any region, while the traditional parties, polling far behind in the presidential election (traditional conservatives Les Républicains and the traditional left-wing Parti Socialiste), retain their majorities in every region. This can serve as a powerful example that decentralisation is proving itself efficient, especially since the 2015 territorial reorganisation has reduced the number of regions and expanded their competencies to make them more competitive at the European level. 
 

2022 Presidential election already in sight

These elections were a major test for Emmanuel Macron and his majority before the presidential one next year. There is an expected duel between him (centre) and Marine le Pen (far right) in the second round, with the chance that the conservative candidate could narrow the gap between them. Even if the high abstention calls for precaution in the analysis of the elections, the regional results are interpreted as a major victory for the conservative side which was often portrayed as "in decline" since their defeat in the 2017 presidential election.
This is especially a large success for Xavier Bertrand (centre-right), a former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency who is re-elected president of the Hauts de France region, and declared a few months ago his candidacy to run for president in 2022 without his party's approval. His considerable lead in the polls makes him a potential challenger for Emmanuel Macron.

In light of these elements, the presidential campaign is almost officially launched, although it unexpectedly and significantly puts in question the supposedly certain second-round duel. President Macron is expected to decide and announce whether or not he will run for his own succession very soon. The conservative party Les Républicains has announced that the name of their candidate should be known before the end of September after an internal consultation. Two ecologist candidates (Eric Piolle, mayor of Grenoble and Yannick Jadot, party’s leader) declared their candidacy  for their party’s internal primary election in September and the socialist party has not decided yet on a representative. As for now, if no other conservative or right-wing candidate comes between Emmanuel Macron (Centre) and Marine Le Pen (far right), Xavier Bertrand's regional victory gives him a boost in the presidential poll and he would receive around 20% on the first round, while Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen would take 24% each, making these three the frontrunners of the presidential campaign for the moment.

Are you interested in the 2022 elections? Get in touch with us to discuss how you can potentially impact the debate and stay up to date with the latest information and analysis ! à Contact Salomé Chelli-Enriquez, Director RPP France: s.chelli-enriquez(at)rpp-group.com  

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